So nobody’s perfect. I had the top two picks reversed. And you have to admit, Exaggerator had to be checked on the turn for home, and even then made up ten lengths on Nyquist in the stretch. Otherwise, I would have not only had the winner, but I would have hit the exacta. OK, another woulda, coulda horseplayers' alibi. Guilty as charged.
The ponies are near impossible to beat, in large part because the track and the state take out well over 20% from the parimutuel pool. That’s why I’ve shifted my gambling ways to the stock market, where you get a fairer shake.
And yet, I love thoroughbred horses still. Love to look at them, watch them run, muscle’s rippling under the glistening lather. They are Keats’s “thing of beauty, a joy forever.” Over my years as an admirer, I’ve twice been moved to verse to salute two of my three favorites.
HOMAGE TO NATIVE DIVER
Black blitz horse!
How you ran like wind
That sweeps the desert clean.
Bobbing brute head hooked with pride,
First out and name to call,
Tail streaming back and heels out,
Beyond the close of tigers in the lane!
You were that honest working stiff
Who took the gold without pretense.
The devil had a hoof in you
Through your mother’s line,
A dark streak of spirit
That forced an early gelding.
Your father gave you gait and gate-impatient legs
That years made stronger as your heart grew great.
Like old wine you were,
Mellowed with age and matured to distance,
Leaving old rivals
Or to stud.
Not for you.
No stallion’s privilege,
No managed lust
Nor pensioner’s meadow graze
To fatten away the empty days.
With a cough;
To vanish fresh with victory!
(September of 1968)
PRAISE JOHN HENRY
What minus times to have no hero but a horse,
Yet what a horse to have for times
That won’t allow a human hero,
When comfort’s the end,
Leveling the way,
Greed media vice
Momentarily bored with golf
The governor of all mediocrity.
But here’s a no-class beast
Out of the blue-collar basement,
Old and angry still they cut him,
So all he does is bite and beat
His betters at horse age 75.
They will say no matter the course,
Here was a steel-drivin’ horse.
One day I hope to have the Muse Calliope goad me into praising the greatest horse I ever saw run—Swaps. In the summer of 1956 I saw the weight-burdened colt set three world records at Hollywood Park, a compact flame-colored chestnut who seemed to dance above dirt or turf far out front, with Willie Shoemaker always easing him across the wire. What a radiant spectacle to fix in memory!